As the second director to helm Thor’s adventures, Alan Taylor would seem like a perfect fit, considering his tenure on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” directing six episodes in the first two seasons. It’s hard to believe that Thor: The Dark World will be his feature film directorial debut although clearly he won’t be returning to TV anytime soon, having already been announced to direct the next Terminator. Taylor didn’t have a lot of time to talk to the press considering how much work still had to get done
Q: When Kenneth Branagh made the first “Thor,” it almost was a pilot for this series, setting up a very specific look, and this movie has changed that look, so I wondered if you could talk about changing the look for this movie?
Alan Taylor: It’s funny you use the word “pilot.” I’ve spent a lot of time in television–I’m a recovering TV director or whatever–but a lot of the television experience has applied well here because there is an episodic quality to it, because it’s volume two of something that’s already been established. Like in television I try and put my stamp on what’s already been established, and see what I can do to give it my sensibility a little bit. Ken’s movie was very successful–he brought together an amazing cast and focused what could have been a huge rambling mythology on very intimate family relations–brother versus brother, father and son–that was all brilliant. The only qualm I had with his movie was the look of it, to me, felt too shiny and too brand new. I understand all the choices. It’s basically because the Asgardians in that take were very much a futuristic alien race that we mistook for Gods. When I came in, I was in love with the Norse mythology. I was in love with sort of grounding it more into a Viking or medieval look and a sort of a sense of history and weight and stuff like that. Marvel seemed to have some interest in that as well, so coming off “Game of Thrones” where we sort of enjoyed combining fantasy with some sense of three-dimensionality and real life, that’s what I tried to bring in here. It’s a funny balancing act, because you have to be funny, in the way that Marvel’s funny, and you have to be true to some pretty absurd things, like you guys saw elves in spaceships. (laughs) But then to try to make that relatable and real and textured and rich and stuff. So, in Asgard, for example, we’re seeing the back streets of Asgard rather than the shiny, golden palace, and we go into some shiny palace rooms, but we tend to blow them up this time. On Earth, it’s London, trying to capture contemporary London. So, ideally, you can have the pleasures of something that feels real, but also all the joys that go along with a Marvel movie. We’ll see whether we’re pulling off this combination or not.
Q: You mentioned you were a recovering TV director. Can you compare directing TV with feature film, in this case?
Taylor: I could go on and on. It’s partly television versus film, but it’s also my experience with HBO versus Marvel, so I’ve been sort of spoiled on the TV end, because HBO feels like a small institution making independent movies. There’s respect for director’s contribution in a way that mainstream television doesn’t really reflect, I don’t think. And Marvel, I came expecting the worst. I had a friend who had done a big, studio movie that was also a sequel, and he e-mailed me at one point and said, “You have no idea. Nobody here gives a flying F what I think about it.” (laughter) I came in braced for that, but it’s been very, very different. Marvel, in its weird way, also is a small institution, so it’s like you’re making an independent movie that just happens to cost multi-millions of dollars, but it’s a handful of people in a room, making the decisions. That creative process is not that different and you’re dealing intimately with the people that you’re making the movie with. I haven’t quite adjusted to the fact that they respect the director more in movies. I’m still used to deferring to…somebody. (laughter) And so it’s been liberating and fun to have more input than I’m used to, but at the same time, this is a huge ocean liner, and learning when you can and can’t turn the ocean liner…
Q: That’s scary.
Taylor: Scary is a good word for it. (laughter) Stressful. I have discovered new layers of stress I never knew existed. At the same time, the cast is wonderful, the crew is wonderful. I cannot complain about how I have been handled by Marvel, but, yeah, stress, absolutely. There is a Marvel process where the script is sort of the last thing that you get. I come from a writer-driven medium where the script is the first thing you get, and then you get to do all of your directing after that. In this one, they seemed pretty comfortable with the script being the last thing to fall into place, so that’s been a source of stress. (laughter)
Q: This movie is being released in 3D, correct?
Taylor: Yeah, so we hear. I was walking to set, and the PA was reading something on their iPad. And, “Oh, look, Disney says…” When I was getting involved I did not want to get into 3D. I’d seen some 3D things that made me unhappy. On the one side was the negatives with not being happy with what I’d seen, but on the positives were that I had gone through a brief course with Sony and got really excited about the language that 3D can speak and realized that I would have to learn a lot to speak that language. When I came into this movie, it was very much a 2D movie, and I was kind of relieved that I wasn’t going to have to speak a different language I hadn’t learned yet. Partway through the process, as is, I guess, common, it was decided mostly for financial reasons–you know, markets are constantly being read to see what things pay off–so I think the decision was made that it was a good idea to do 3D. We heard that partway through, and we are aware of it now. I am not radically changing the way I’m shooting it. We’ll see. (laughter) I think we have wonderful imagery. I think that’s one of the great things about the Marvel Universe is it gives you a chance to play with big, wonderful imagery, which hopefully will be a pleasure in 3D, but we aren’t throwing spears at the camera any more than we were before. We’ll see what happens.
Q: When you got involved with the project to where you are now, how much has the project shifted along the way in terms of the story you’re telling and characters involved?
Taylor: The story has shifted a lot, and that’s part of the rollercoaster of having a script that was very much in flux. When I came, they had a first draft by an author, and we brought in a new writer and took it in a very different direction. I won’t go into details what we thought of that draft (laughs), but it’s been a wild and woolly path. Some things were agreed upon very early on–who our villain was going to be, what the arc of Jane’s relationship was gonna be–things like that were pretty much understood from the beginning, but there are characters in it now that were not in it, and I was sort of pushing to bring some people back that weren’t originally coming back. And I still consider the script a work in progress.
Q: With Joss Whedon being involved in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as an overseer, did he get a look at the script or do a pass on it?
Taylor: No, he read a draft, and there is still some hope that he would come in and do some stuff on it for us, sort of under the table, kind of… now that he’s the table. (laughter) So we are all hoping for that. He sort of gave his seal of approval on some things, but we haven’t gotten a draft, as such.
Q: Everyone here associates you with “Game of Thrones,” which would make you the perfect fit for “Thor,” but what was your interest in the character besides having worked in a similar medium? What drew you into wanting to get into this Marvel Comics world?
Taylor: I think it was partly, exactly the things that I’ve found myself enjoying on “Game of Thrones.” “Game of Thrones” was the first fantasy thing I’d done, and like a lot of people who enjoy the show, watching it, I didn’t expect to respond to that world. When I started doing it, I really started to love it and started to realize that it’s one of the things I’m naturally drawn to. It’s kind of an epic-scale imagery that’s also grounded in these relationships and that was sort of what you could find in “Thor as well.” And there’s this funny thing. I realize I’ve been drawn in, again and again–when I did “Deadwood,” when I did “Rome”–I love things that have one foot in history. I was gonna be a history professor before I sold out and went into TV, so things that evoke that, it’s really exciting to me. And Thor, even though he’s a Marvel character, is also obviously deeply-rooted in Norse mythology. You can see the look of our sets is deeply embedded or drawn from numerous Celtic sources, and I just love drawing on past cultures. That’s a thrill to me. I saw “Avengers,” a rough cut, around the time that I was getting involved, and loved the balance to tones that Marvel does. That they can make you really care, and they can make you laugh at what’s just happened, and just when you think this is ridiculous, they let you know it’s ridiculous. And that’s a wonderful dance that they do. I saw some other films recently that only had one of those tones, and once you get used to the Marvel thing, you miss the other tones. I remember seeing “Avengers” with my very young kids, the first laugh that came along, it was like they were liberated. “Oh, we’re allowed to laugh! I didn’t know.” (laughter)
Q: Walking around the production offices, there are so many different locations and sets and vehicles, and you’ve been working on three sets the last two days. There’s a lot going on here, so how do you decide on what you need to get done on any given day?
Taylor: I think stress was mostly in prep, because then you’re worrying about every possibly thing, but once you start shooting, you don’t have any choice. You have to worry about tomorrow morning, so that’s mostly what you focus on. But, “Game of Thrones,” again, we were shooting in Croatia and Belfast and Iceland, more or less simultaneously, and so I got used to having attention spread around, but also we have a fantastic designer and a fantastic DP, and a lot of that stuff, you start to trust at a certain point.
Q: Can you talk about introducing a new villain like Malekith and tell us about what his goals are?
Taylor: Yeah, let’s see. It was clear early on that we were going to be dealing with the Dark Elves and that Malekith was going to be our guy. I’m trying to remember the process by which it evolved. He’s very much on a mission of vengeance and reclaiming what is rightfully his – that’s not an unfamiliar device. (laughs) Early on, I started thinking he’s got something in common with Roy Batty (from “Blade Runner”), who had a righteous mission that you sort of sympathized with, had a kind of humanity, even though he was an evil bastard. Obviously, his name’s escaping me, but the bad guy in J.J. Abrams’ wonderful “Star Trek” (Nero) – very similar thing. Out to avenge something. So that sort of came along with him. It started getting more personal. Being an American, I found myself bringing some Osama bin Laden into it. (Chuckles) I think two things happened: His mission became grander and grander, and we sort of invented a time scale for where he’s been and what his backstory is, to make it big enough for Thor. I think other superheroes can fight bad guys, in Gotham City, or can fight bad guys in Metropolis, or whatever, but Thor is part of this epic thing he’s also got going on. Our villains haven’t been around for 5,000 years, they’ve been pissed off since the Big Bang, so there’s a kind of scale. Odin’s father had to fight them. I liked, again, it’s a history lesson, there’s a scale to what his mission is, but also, on the other hand, trying to make it intimate. You saw him with Adewale, who’s playing Algrim, who later becomes Kurse. It was important to me that they have an intimate relationship, so you felt a kind of brotherly — you know, you’ve got Thor and Loki, and you’ve got Algrim and Malekith, so you have some chance for an intimate connection. So it’s not just moustache-rolling villains blowing things up. (laughs)
After talking to Taylor, that was pretty much it for our visit and we left the set with only a little more knowledge about the upcoming movie than we had beforehand even if there still seemed like a lot more that we’ll be able to appreciate once we see it on the screen.
Thor: The Dark World is scheduled for release on November 8, 2013.